No place to hide
AH Nayyar and Zia Mian
Previous wars between Pakistan and India have been largely restricted to
fighting between the armed forces. Cities and civilians have been largely
spared, with the casualties limited to a few tens of thousands most of whom
were soldiers. Now India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons, cities and
civilians will bear the brunt of the destruction.
When it comes to picking targets for nuclear weapons there are really only
two options. One option is to indiscriminately destroy cities in an attempt
to obliterate the other side and force an unconditional surrender. The
second option is to try to use nuclear weapons to destroy military command
structures and war fighting capabilities. The aim is fight and win a nuclear
war while ensuring that the enemy cannot use its nuclear weapons.
However, the simple fact is that nearly all of Pakistan's significant
military centres are in or close to cities. For instance, Karachi,
Hyderabad, Bahawalpur, Multan, Lahore, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and
Quetta are all corps headquarters. Islamabad has the air force and naval
headquarters. These are obvious targets. Nuclear weapons cause massive
destruction over such large distances that even if nuclear weapons were
targeted specifically at military installations the cities would not escape.
One simple example will suffice. Pakistan's military General HeadQuarters
(GHQ) is located in Rawalpindi. If it was to be attacked by a small nuclear
weapon (rather than the largest that India has so far tested), the
consequences for Rawalpindi and Islamabad and neighbouring areas will be
The blast from the explosion would be so great that it will completely
destroy every building within an area that would cover Tench Bhata,
Lalkurti, much of Saddar, Pearl Continental Hotel and its surroundings,
Combined Military Hospital complex, Lalazar, and others. Every body in the
area would be killed immediately.
The blast would not be limited to this area, however. Beyond this area, in
every direction, many of the older buildings and those in which sub-standard
concrete and cement have been used would be heavily damaged and some would
collapse. The destruction would extend out as far as Westridge in the west,
Liaquat Bagh in the north, Ayub Park in the east and many of the new housing
schemes on Chakri Road in the south. As buildings collapsed, many people
would die trapped underneath.
Along with the blast would come fire. The light and heat produced by the
nuclear explosion would be so intense that simply looking at the explosion
would cause blindness. For several kilometres around the explosion,
everything that can burn would catch fire; wood, plastic, paper, clothes,
trees, people. Those who are not killed immediately would be so badly burnt
that without prompt and adequate medical attention they would die shortly.
However, in Rawalpindi much of the already limited medical infrastructure
would be destroyed by the explosion - hospitals and clinics would be among
the buildings blown up (including the CMH complex, the Military Hospital,
and the District Headquarters Hospital), doctors and nurses among the people
killed or injured. Moreover, many of the people in need of care have already
been made more vulnerable to illness by poor sanitation, malnutrition and so
on. Their injuries are much more likely to prove fatal.
The radiation produced by the nuclear explosion would be carried by the wind
and spread its lethal effects over much larger distances and cause sickness
and death over much longer times. Depending on the wind direction, people
living five kilometres from the explosion will be exposed to acute radiation
and may start to feel sick within about fifteen minutes and die within a few
weeks. This would include those living in Satellite Town, residential areas
between Satellite Town and Saddar, Islamabad's Sectors I-10 and I-11, around
the Railway Carriage Factory, in Westridge and residential townships south
of it, Morgah and other areas around the Attock Oil Refinery, and in the
Chaklala schemes, Airport area and Sadiqabad. There will be no distinction
between soldiers and civilians.
The sickness and death caused by radiation will be in both the short term
and long term. There are number of consequences of radiation exposure that
only start to appear years later. These include cataracts in the eyes, some
of which can lead to complete blindness, leukemia and other types of cancer
including of the lung, gastrointestinal system and breast, which can be
fatal. Particularly badly affected would be mothers who are pregnant when
exposed to the radiation from the nuclear explosion. The effects would
include a marked increase in the number of still births and a number of
infants who die within their first year. Among children who survive there
would be increased mental retardation and other physical effects.
There are also genetic effects of nuclear explosions. The radiation causes
mutations that will affect future generations. More than 50 years after the
bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki people there are still suffering and dying
from the effects of the nuclear weapons. For them there is no difference
between life and death.
Since radiation contaminates air, soil and water, radioactive material can
enter the body simply by breathing, through cuts and wounds, by eating and
drinking. If even a very small amount of this material stays inside the
body, it can produce terrible injuries. Since radioactive contamination is
invisible and can last for several years the entire area affected by the
radiation cloud would be potentially lethal. For the small nuclear weapon
described so far, even a gentle wind would be sufficient to carry high doses
of radiation to distances of over 20 kilometres. Depending on the wind
direction, this could include all of Islamabad and may go up to Wah in the
This is the effect of one small nuclear weapon on one military command
centre. In any real war there will be many such attacks, perhaps involving
several nuclear weapons aimed at many target. At this point the imagination
fails, words and numbers become meaningless.
SOURCE: June 28, 1997, The News International Pakistan
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